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Monday, February 25, 2013

February Horror, Sci-Fi, & Fantasy

Welcome to the monthly horror/fantasy/sci-fi post!

On the fiction front, I just started reading:



Okay, onto the links!

For the ladies out there who are fans of steampunk and love shoes, I found this:
Metropolis Hades Atriedes Steampunk Victorian Gears Buckles Oxford Platform Metal Heels.
I admit, I'm not much of a "girly-girl," but I love shoes. And anything that combines two of my biggest loves, spec-fic and shoes, is awesome in my book!

From @io9: Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle is coming to Syfy http://t.co/zZqWaAIz
I'd like to see Bear Grylls do a zombie apocalypse episode. Until then, we have this:
Zombie Survival Gear, the 13 essentials

I'm actually not upset about this theory. I think it's quietly elegant.
via @mjkrey: Could this be the official ending to John Carpenter's The Thing? http://ow.ly/hQVUM

via @blackgatedotcom: New blog post from Goth Chick News: Amazon Studios Scores Zombie Invasion http://ow.ly/2v1UmT

Top 10 Nightmare-inducing Aliens

And this week's "just for fun" link (because it reminds me of the Truffle Shuffle) is:
The Harlem Shake

See you next Monday!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Revision & Self-Editing Part 2: Read It Out Loud

My number one tip for revision/editing is to read your work out loud.

It's absolutely indispensable for catching errors that you otherwise might miss. For example, one of the most common (and annoying) errors I run into in my own work is leftover words I forgot to delete when I revised a sentence:

He turned the the car around.

If I read that sentence out loud, my eye just skips over the second "the," but when someone else reads it out loud, the extra "the" jumps out at me.

Reading out loud also helps catch awkward sentences and discordant word choices. Sentences have a rhythm to them, depending on word choice, and sometimes a sentence can be grammatically correct but "sound" choppy when read out loud. Sometimes a sentences doesn't look like its a run on, but when you read it out loud you find yourself gasping for breath halfway through.

These are all problems that are brought to light when you read out loud.

The best option would be to have a nice volunteer read your story out loud to you, but in cases where you don't have a volunteer standing by, there are software programs that will do it for you.

Originally, I used WordTalk to read my story back to me. It's a free plug-in for Microsoft Word and you can get it here. Though the website doesn't mention anything about Windows 8, I have it installed on a Windows 8 machine using Microsoft Office 2010 and it works fine.




These days, I'm using Dragon Naturally Speaking because it reads text AND takes dictation. I use the dictation feature both during drafting and during revision to make small changes. It's also handy when I'm taking notes. I happen to be a "how-to" junkie, and I read a lot of how-to books. I'll leave the microphone on but sleeping while I'm reading. When I get to a passage that I want to take notes on, I'll give the "wake up" command and dictate the note instead of trying to juggle the book in one hand and type/write a note with the other. One caveat: you have to be careful when you are using dictation mode, because it will pick up anything you say and insert it into your document. For example, the dogs (Abby and Roscoe) were being unruly while I was revising a draft, and I ended up with this:

Something splashed in the water behind him. He spun and squinted at the water rippling in the moonlight. Frogs croaked in the damn it Abby, get your head out of the garbage weeds at the water's edge.

If I hadn't caught that little addition, it certainly would have left a acquisitions editor scratching his/her head! So be very careful with the dictation feature!

The playback feature in Dragon Naturally Speaking is very similar to WordTalk, though I do think the WordTalk playback is easier to use. The Dragon Naturally Speaking version I'm using is for Windows XP/7, but I'm running it on a Windows 8 machine and it works fine.

Of course, you're going to need more than just software to help you make your manuscript shine.

The books I've found most useful for matters of style & grammar are:

              


The Chicago Manual of Style is the Publishing industry bible. Painless Grammar, Painless Writing, and Writers Inc. are not books that I bought for my fiction writing career; they are books I bought for the kids while we were homeschooling! But the very things that made them perfect for the kids (clear and simple instruction, great indexing for looking up words/problems) also make them a perfect quick-reference for this old dog who hasn't taken an English class in over a decade! I STILL have issues with the use of lay/lie/laid, and these books include a nice little chart I can refer to during editing.

My other favorite books on revision and editing include:

              

Revision and editing is my least favorite part of the writing process, but it's a necessary evil (and if you've seen any of my first drafts, you KNOW how necessary it is for me)! These books and software make the process a little less painful.

Monday, February 11, 2013

February After Hours

One of the things that I've been dealing with lately (besides writer's block) is pet issues.

We've always been a pet-centric family and even used to run a ferret shelter. We treat our pets like family and want them to be happy and comfortable.

Every German Shepherd we've had (Abby is our third) has had skin issues. We've spent hundreds in vet bills, tried different foods, tried different supplements, and nothing seemed to help. No matter what we tried, a couple of times a year, the Shepard will get itchy, their skin will get red and inflamed, and their hair will fall out. Steroids help, but they aren't a good long-term solution. The steroids even made Missy wet the bed, which was horrible for her morale (she knew peeing indoors was bad).

Abby's skin condition has been the worst. Though her skin condition does get worse at certain times of the year, just like the other Shepherds we've had, she's always itchy, and lately she's developed big oozing sores on her belly.

At the end of our rope, we started cycling through foods again, and finally found something that seems to help: Dick Van Patten's Natural Balance LID diet in venison and sweet potato. She's stopped itching and the sores on her belly have healed. Now we just have to wait for spring and see if it has cured the "general itchy German Shepherd" syndrome, too.

At about the same time that Abby's skin condition was worsening, my pup, Roscoe, became a reluctant eater. Since the Natural Balance diet is designed for "all life stages," we switched him to it, too, but his reluctant eating worsened until he wasn't eating at all.

Not seeing the forest for the trees--probably because we were already overstressed about Abby's problems--we took him to the vet for a battery of tests and x-rays. A few hundred dollars later, we still had no concrete answer to the problem. They did find that he had a "clump" in his intestines, but the clump was moving through as expected, so it didn't seem to be a blockage.

Then it dawned on me: maybe he doesn't like the new food. Maybe the clump had made him feel full back when he was eating puppy food, and by the time the clump had moved on and he had an appetite again, we had already switched him to a food he didn't like!

So now I've switched him to Blue Buffalo Wilderness Puppy Food (the one with the cute wolf pup on the bag), and it seems to be working. He's licking his bowl clean.

The moral of the story comes straight from Dr. House M.D.: "When you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras."

If I had looked for the simple answer (we switched his food to something he didn't like the taste of), I could have saved myself almost a grand in vet bills!

Monday, February 4, 2013

February 2013 Update

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


I apologize for completely missing the last post of January. I started a post and thought I finished it, but obviously didn't. It just shows how bad the end of last month turned out to be! Even my "I need a weekend out of town and out of this crappy winter" trip didn't work out--we ended up having a blizzard and traveling was out of the question!

February is already starting out better. I've made it to the final round of a volume of Chicken Soup for the Soul. I don't usually write nonfiction, but I do enjoy writing about writing (which is what the upcoming volume is about: "Inspiration for Writers") and writing about pets. And speaking of pets, that's how I became a Chicken Soup for the Soul fan. I picked up my first volume (Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul) back in 1998, and I think I have every pet-related volume they've published since. So I'm excited at the opportunity to have my work (possibly) appear in one of their volumes. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

On the "what I'm currently writing" front, there's not much to report. I'm not sure if it's the chaos of life, the "dark heart of winter doldrums," or what, but I've kicked around (and eventually rejected) eight or ten different short story ideas. I don't know if they truly sucked as much as I came to think they did, or if it's just my perspective that's skewed. I know some people say that writer's block doesn't exist, but it sure seems like what I'm dealing with right now.

Maybe if I go pull out one of my novels and try to work on it, it will get the short stories flowing again. There's nothing like the threat of novel revisions to get me fired up to write short stories!

Have a great week!